Yes, you read the title correctly. For many, the mention of marijuana (cannabis) conjures up pictures of the 1960’s when the nightly news flourished with pictures of Woodstock and the hippie movement known for excessive marijuana use. However, with the approval of medical marijuana in 1996 by the state of California, we have moved forward as research continues to confirm the many medicinal benefits of marijuana especially the chemical compound cannabidiol (CBD). Since 1996, 22 more states, the District of Columbia and Guam have enacted similar laws.
One term that most recognize in conjunction with cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” or stoned feeling. However, cannabis does contain another, often overlooked, chemical compound called Cannabidiol (CBD) which has been proven medically to help relieve irritation, convulsions, nausea, as well as inhibit cancer cell growth. Many indicate that cannabidiol helps with pain relief.
Cannabidiol is not a pharmaceutical, but is better termed as a Nutraceutical. Nutraceuticals are products derived from food sources that are purported to provide extra health benefits, in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. The best medical value of cannabis may be in the use of it as a nutritional adjunct. When eaten or juiced raw and unheated, cannabis provides acid varieties of the cannabinoids that have additional amazing medical value but don’t get you high. Cannabidiol is a cannabinoid that doesn’t affect the mind or behavior. It may be useful in reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures, and possibly even treating mental illness and addictions.
Cannabidiol from Industrial Hemp
There’s been much debate suggesting that CBD derived from industrial hemp has the same properties as cannabis-derived CBD, making it a potential alternative for patients who can’t legally access medical marijuana but can legally acquire hemp-derived CBD products. A lot of people aren’t entirely familiar with hemp-derived CBD, however. Below are some facts about CBD derived from industrial hemp:
- Agricultural hemp and medical marijuana both come from the Cannabis Sativa L. plant.
- Agricultural hemp, which is often referred to as “hemp stalk,” grows differently than THC-containing cannabis, and looks similar to bamboo.
- THC-producing marijuana plants are grown to an average of five feet in height, spaced six to eight feet apart. Agricultural hemp is grown to a height of 10 to 15 feet or more before harvest, placed three to six inches apart.
- Hemp has little potential to produce high-content THC when pollinated.
- As long as agricultural hemp plants are pollinated by members of their own crop, the genetics will remain similar with low levels of THC.
- There is a strong legal argument that production and distribution of CBD oils/products derived from imported raw material industrial hemp is not a violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA); in fact, one Colorado law firm has published a written opinion making the case.
It is interesting to note that the drugs oxycodone, fentanyl, and meperidine (Demerol), among the most commonly abused opioids and leading causes of opioid overdose deaths, are only considered Schedule II drugs, which means, in a technical sense, they are less dangerous than marijuana. Until recently Vicodin (opiod) was classified as a Schedule III substance, which is defined as “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Use of Vicodin grew from 112 million doses prescribed in 2006 to 131 million in 2011, according to a survey by IMS Health. To its credit, the FDA has recently announced its intention to reclassify hydrocodone-containing painkillers from Schedule III to Schedule II drugs.
Cannabidiol oil that comes from industrial hemp plants, are a different story. The United States FDA considers hemp oil (and its derivative CBD) to be a dietary supplement since it is made from industrial hemp plants and not the marijuana plant. Cannabidiol from industrial hemp also has the added benefit of having virtually no THC. This is the reason that it’s not possible to get “high” from cannabidiol oil. There simply isn’t enough THC. Even though the cannabidiol oils that are now being marketed contain a low level of cannaabidiol, there are many anecdotal health testimonies coming from the use of cannabidiol oil.
Those that oppose cannabis for medicinal purposes continue to argue that the plant needs to be subjected to the same standards of clinical study and FDA review as conventional medicines. What is usually not brought out is that cannabis and its active components have already been subjected to a greater degree of scientific scrutiny than many FDA-approved pharmaceuticals.
The first experiment documenting cannabinoid anti-tumor effects took place in 1974 at the Medical College of Virginia at the behest of the U.S. government. The results of that study, reported in an August 18, 1974 Washington Post newspaper feature showed that marijuana “slowed the growth of lung cancers, breast cancers and a virus-induced leukemia in laboratory mice and prolonged their lives by as much as 36%.”
Researchers at the University of Milan in Naples, Italy reported in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics that non-psychoactive compounds in marijuana inhibited the growth of glioma cells in a dose-dependent manner, and selectively targeted and killed malignant cells through apoptosis. “Non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) produces a significant anti-tumor activity both in vitro and in vivo, thus suggesting a possible application of CBD as an antineoplastic agent.”
Cannabis has been found to be effective in relieving the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Cannabidiol (CBD) arrested the onset of autoimmune diabetes in NOD (non-obese diabetes-prone) mice in a 2007 study.
In 2006 researchers at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem reported that injections of 5 mg per day of CBD (10-20 injections) significantly reduced the prevalence of diabetes in mice from an incidence of 86% in non-treated controls to an incidence of only 30%.
CBD significantly lowers plasma levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines (proteins), INF-gamma and TNF-alpha, and significantly reduced the severity of insulitis compared to non-treated controls.
CBD has anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-epileptic, sedative and neuro-protective actions. It is also a potent anti-oxidant, protecting against chemical damage due to oxidation. Studies have suggested that CBD could protect against the development of diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, brain and nerve damage due to stroke, alcoholism, nausea, inflammatory bowel disease and Huntington’s disease. Medicine just does not get any better.
CBD can also be used to make topical creams to help relieve neuropathic pain and tingling in hands and feet. Cannabis helps still diabetic “restless leg syndrome” (RLS), and when used with magnesium helps people sleep much better.
A study recently published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research by scientists from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem explains that one of marijuana’s non-psychotropic component cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD), significantly enhanced the healing process of lab rats with mid-femoral (thighbone) fractures. The same team, in earlier research, discovered that cannabinoid receptors within our bodies stimulated bone formation and inhibited bone loss. This paves the way for the future use of cannabinoid drugs to combat osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases. According to Dr. Yankel Gabet of the Bone Research Laboratory at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, the human body is naturally equipped with a cannabinoid system that regulates both vital and non-vital systems including the skeleton. “We only respond to cannabis because we are built with intrinsic compounds and receptors that can also be activated by compounds in the cannabis plant,” he said.
NIH-funded and other researchers are continuing to explore the possible uses of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids for medical treatment. For instance, recent animal studies have shown that marijuana can kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others. Evidence from one animal study suggests that extracts from whole-plant marijuana can shrink one of the most serious types of brain tumors. Research in mice showed that these extracts, when used with radiation, increased the cancer-killing effects of the radiation (Scott, 2014).
Some marijuana advocacy websites have even compiled a useful list of marijuana studies.
Massi et al. 2004. Antitumor effects of cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, on human glioma cell lines. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Fast Forward 308: 838-845.
Autoimmunity; 2006, Vol. 39, No. 2, Pages 143-151.
Drug Facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Is Marijuana Medicine? April, 2015.
Scott KA, Dalgleish AG, Liu WM. The combination of cannabidiol and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol enhances the anticancer effects of radiation in an orthotopic murine glioma model. Mol Cancer Ther. 2014;13(12):2955-67.
Abagail Klein Leichman. Cannabis Helps Heal Broken Bones.